The new Bentley Continental GT’s dual-clutch transmission isn’t quite as creamy smooth as the conventional automatic found in the previous model. And while you might expect a car like this to be mortuary-quiet at a motorway cruise, it is in fact only library-quiet. There is a little wind noise and some tyre roar, despite the decadently double-glazed windows and clever Pirelli tyres that are so immodest about their noise-cancelling properties that actually display a muted speaker symbol on their sidewalls.
And that’s it. Having driven the third-generation Continental GT for a week – through town, along the motorway, across rolling countryside – I can find no other meaningful way in which to criticise it. Undoubtedly the car is staggeringly expensive at close to £160,000 before options, and the enormous W12 engine with its pair of turbochargers consumes so much fuel you wonder if it wouldn’t be more cost effective to travel by helicopter instead. And I suppose if we’re going to discuss matters of personal taste you might also say the chrome grille and cut glass headlamp linings are a little crass. But judged as a high-performance luxury grand tourer, the Continental GT falls only a few steps shy of perfection.
ALL-NEW AND ALL THE TECH
Although outwardly it looks a lot like the first two generations of Bentley’s four-seat coupe, this latest model is actually a new car altogether. It shares its platform with the deeply impressive Porsche Panamera and it’s littered with sophisticated technologies, the likes of which the prehistoric outgoing model could only have dreamt of.
There’s the 48-volt suspension system, for instance, which can decouple the anti-roll bars when driving in a straight line to improve ride comfort. The air springs, meanwhile, are three-chamber, which means there’s a very high volume of air to be squeezed and compressed as the car rolls over lumps and bumps in the road surface, which smoothes out the ride even further.
On top of that, the four-wheel drive system can now intelligently distribute torque to wherever it can be used best, whereas earlier versions mindlessly sent 40 per cent of the available torque to the front axle and the rest to the rear.
Bentley has made a number of fundamental improvements that aren’t dependent on clever hardware, too. For instance, the wheelbase is longer and the overhangs are shorter, which means there’s far less mass dangling unhelpfully beyond each axle. The huge lump of an engine has been moved backwards as well, evening out the car’s weight distribution, while the new body is 80kg lighter than the old one. So apart from being much smarter now, the new Continental GT is also more inherently right.
And not before time, because although the second-generation model was released only in 2011, it was nothing more than a revised version of the original Continental GT, which first appeared as long ago as 2003.
The 6.0-litre, 12-cylinder engine is fundamentally the same as before but it’s been revised for this new installation. It develops 626bhp and 664lb ft of torque – adequate not only for a luxury grand tourer but for most oil tankers as well. This car is searingly fast, but because it’s quite large and it weighs more than 2.2 tonnes, the way it piles on speed is nothing short of alarming. Importantly, however, in town and on a longer run the engine is refined and subdued. It’s when pulling away from junctions or manoeuvring in tight spaces that the eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox can be jerky, but it does switch ratios much more snappily than the old transmission.
DRIVING THE BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT
When you fire the car up it defaults into the ‘Bentley’ driving mode, which sits somewhere between the Sport and Comfort settings. Twisting the rotary knob down on the transmission tunnel to switch into the latter of those modes quickly becomes as much a part of the start-up sequence as latching your seatbelt, because it’s in that mode that the Continental GT is at its most relaxing. And when you do reach a twisty road and want to sharpen the car’s responses, you simply flick it directly into Sport. Exactly what the Bentley setting is actually for is therefore hard to say, although the fourth mode – Custom – does serve a clear purpose (it allows you to mix and match the handful of variables to suit your own preferences).
In Comfort mode the ride quality is very good indeed, the car gently padding across the kind of craggy road surfaces that’d make a less plaint car rattle and shake unpleasantly. Elsewhere the steering is remote but perfectly accurate, the brakes are enormously powerful and thanks to the all but sentient four-wheel drive system, there’s always enough traction at hand to match whatever biblical amount of power you’ve just called for with your right foot.
This car is too heavy and far too comfort oriented to ever be fun to drive in the manner of a smaller, lighter sports car – or even a more athletic sort of grand tourer like an Aston Martin DB11 – but with its various active chassis and drivetrain systems, the Continental GT is actually far more agile than you’d expect it to be. With plenty of grip and solid body control on top of that, it’ll find its way along a winding B-road at an almighty lick. It’s like a stumpy rugby prop collecting the ball in the defensive half, side-stepping one incoming tackle and dancing around another before out-sprinting the winger to score a try.
But the Bentley’s cabin is more impressive still. It’s sumptuous. The fit and finish and the quality of the materials is superb, and with more than 10 square metres of real wood and what seems like an entire field’s worth of cow hide laid out across the seats and dashboard, the overall sense of opulence is staggering.
This isn’t a full four-seater but nor are the rear seats there only for show. If you really scrutinise the cockpit you’ll find that the shiny black plastic buttons on the transmission tunnel that control seat heating and ventilation look a little cheap. They’re also hard to read in bright sunlight. But these are trivial criticisms. Generally, the cabin is a triumph.
Since 2003 Bentley has described the Continental GT as the definitive sporting grand tourer, the luxury coupe to vanquish them all. With this latest model, it finally has the right to do so.
Bentley Continental GT W12
Price: from £159,100. As tested £205,015
0-62mph: 3.7 seconds
Top speed: 207mph
Fuel economy: 20.8mpg (combined)
HISTORY GUIDE BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT
First Generation (2003-2011)
The original Continental GT was the first all-new Bentley to emerge under the company’s Volkswagen stewardship. The German giant acquired Bentley in 1998 and signalled the start of a new era for the fabled British marque by introducing the two-door coupe just a few years later. It shared its underpinnings with VW’s Phaeton luxury saloon, which helped Bentley to amortise development costs and manufacture cars in much greater numbers than it had before. In the space of 12 months, Bentley’s output leapt up from 1,000 or so cars per year to more than 7,000. Convertible and higher-performance versions followed in due course.
Search for a used first-generation Bentley Continental GT on CarGurus
Second Generation (2011-2018)
By 2011 the Continental GT was beginning to feel long in the tooth. To inject new life into the model, Bentley introduced a revised version. The company boldly described the car as the second-generation Continental GT, but in reality it was a substantially revised version of the original. The exterior design and cabin were tweaked and power output rose from 552bhp to 567bhp. More significantly, though, a new version emerged with a V8 engine, making it more affordable than the existing W12 versions.
Search for a used second-generation Bentley Continental GT on CarGurus
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